Tuesday, November 23, 2004


As published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
Nov. 23, 2004

Democrats in the state House of Representatives voted Monday to oust their majority floor leader in favor of a Grants lawyer whose father was speaker of the House in the 1970s.

Rep. Kenny Martinez, who was re-elected to a fourth House term this month, defeated Rep. Danice Picraux of Albuquerque, who had held the leadership position since 2001. Rep. John Heaton of Carlsbad also ran for the post.

Also on Monday, House Democrats picked Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton of Albuquerque for majority whip. She will become the first black lawmaker to get a leadership position in the state Legislature.

House Republicans also met in caucus Monday. They decided to keep their floor leader, Rep. Ted Hobbs of Albuquerque. Two House Republicans challenged Hobbs for the position.

Martinez is the son of the late former Speaker Walter Martinez, who was House speaker from 1971 through 1978. In 2000, Kenny Martinez considered running for speaker against Rep. Ben Luján of Nambé after former Speaker Raymond Sanchez of Albuquerque was defeated for re-election. However, he decided not to challenge Luján, who still holds that job.

No Democrat challenged Luján for the speaker’s post this year.

Martinez told reporters after the House Democrat caucus — which was not open to the public — to expect no great changes. “The House will continue to go as smoothly as before under the speaker,” he said.

Both Martinez and Luján described House Democrats as being united despite the battles for various leadership positions.

Picraux, who was the first female majority leader in the state House, said her defeat wasn’t a vote against her.

“People have been looking at Kenny to be a leader,” she told reporters. “This is the moment he chose. I don’t think they were throwing me out.”

Picraux in 2000 defeated former Rep. Max Coll of Santa Fe for the floor leadership in a close caucus vote.

Like Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, who was elected Senate majority floor leader this weekend, Martinez has been chairman of his chamber’s Judiciary Committee for several years.

Martinez took several political lumps earlier this year after he sponsored a wildly unpopular bill that would have required ignition interlocks on all vehicles in order to prevent drunken driving.

The measure — which would have cost drivers about $1,000 per vehicle — passed the House. But the bill — and Martinez — were widely denounced on talk radio and in letters to editors in newspapers across the state and became a campaign issue in some legislative races.

The majority floor leader runs the calendar, deciding what legislation gets heard when. It’s the No. 2 position under the speaker.

In other Democratic leadership races, Williams Stapleton, who recently was re-elected to a sixth term in the House, defeated three others for the post: Reps. Mimi Stewart and Miguel Garcia, both of Albuquerque, and Joe Campos of Santa Rosa.

She is one of two blacks in the Legislature, the other being Rep. Jane Powdrell-Culbert, R-Rio Rancho.

Whips are responsible for counting votes, trying to convince members to vote according to caucus positions and to make sure members show up for floor votes.

Although Heaton was defeated for majority leader, he was elected by acclamation to keep his current job as Democratic caucus leader.

On the Republican side, Hobbs, who has been minority leader since 1999, beat challengers Brian Moore of Clayton, as well as Larry Larrañaga of Albuquerque. Moore, who just got re-elected to a third term, had been campaigning for the job since April.

In the whip’s race, Rep. Terry Marquardt of Alamogordo beat Rep. Dan Foley of Roswell and Rep. Don Bratton of Hobbs.

Rep. Anna Crook of Clovis defeated Teresa Zanetti of Albuquerque.

On the Senate side, Democrats on Monday voted to keep Sen. Mary Jane Garcia of Doña Ana as whip. On Saturday, Garcia and Sen. Linda Lopez of Albuquerque were tied in a race that also included Sen. Bernadette Sanchez of Albuquerque. Garcia won in the second ballot.

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